Thanks, Coach, For The Life Lessons

17 years later, I'm proud of the woman she's become
17 years later, I’m proud of the woman she’s become

Dear Coach,

We have never met in person, but we have a few things in common. First, we both spend a good amount of our time working with teenagers. Second, we both spend a good amount of time with teenagers who are ski racers. And third, because of our roles, we both make a huge impact on their lives. I’m writing you this letter (after spending two days calming myself down) to thank you for some unexpected life lessons you taught my daughter at Monday’s ski race. I’m not sure if you’ve ever met her in person either, but just in case you haven’t, here’s a little bit about her:

My daughter is just 17, a happy, strong, confident young woman on the verge of graduating from high school. She has been a skier since age 4, a racer since age 7, and has spent endless hours pursuing her passion. My daughter is one of the hardest working athletes I know; she’s sacrificed more than the average teen to excel at her sport, and as a result, she loves every minute of it. She’s even hoping to race next year in college-not because she wants to have a career in skiing, but simply because it makes her happy. My daughter is honest, kind, fair, compassionate and well liked. She’s also a great racer, and because of the mental and physical demands of ski racing, I believe she has grown to be a courageous person. In other words, she’s the kind of kid you’d like to get to know and have on your team.

Now, maybe you had an inkling of my daughter’s spirit over the last few weeks you’ve been watching her race. Or maybe not. I’m not going to second guess your actions here, or unleash my mamawolfe-instinctive-fierceness on you. I simply want to thank you for what you taught us when you threw a temper tantrum and disqualified my daughter for wearing a Go Pro camera on her helmet after she came in first place.

Thanks, Coach, for teaching my daughter that as long as we do the right things for the right reasons, we’re going to be ok. She didn’t strap that camera to her helmet and ski down the course because she was trying to do the wrong thing; in fact, she was given the camera by her coach, who after decades of coaching the high school team, didn’t have an idea that wearing a camera on her helmet would break any rules. She wasn’t trying to hide anything, she wasn’t trying to do anything wrong; in fact, she’s the kind of girl who avoids breaking rules at all costs. Had she known she could be DQed, she would have eagerly removed it. She wasn’t trying to be defiant; heck, she’s never even gotten a detention in 12 years of school! In the end, she accepted that she unknowingly broke a rule, and that since you objected, that was that. Thanks to you, Coach, at the end of the day she could look at herself in the mirror and know she was ok.

Thanks, Coach, for teaching my daughter that it’s not always about you. When she responded to my congratulatory text with the message that you had DQed her, I was shocked. I struggled to come up with words that would become a virtual hug huge enough to console her obvious disappointment, and the first thing that came to mind was to say that sometimes people do things to others because they feel vulnerable, and they project that fear onto someone they perceive as ‘below’ their chain of power. In my eyes, that’s the worst thing  a teacher, coach, or parent can do. It’s bullying, it’s cowardly, and it’s a real show of poor sportsmanship. Thanks to you, Coach, she learned how that feels, and will not repeat your behavior.

Thanks, Coach, for teaching my daughter that winners aren’t always the ones who come in first. Anyone who has been around ski racing knows that if you focus on being first, 99% of the time you’ll be disappointed. Ski racing is about preparation, persistence, and perseverance. And of course, it’s nice to make the podium once in awhile, especially when you earned it fair and square. But ski racing has taught my daughter to always do her best and the results will follow. Do you know that after you DQed her (against the objection of every other coach at the race), that your racers came to her and apologized for your behavior? Those results surely don’t show up on the score board. So not only was my daughter validated by her teammates, but also yours. I sincerely hope that your lack of sportsmanship doesn’t change theirs; in my parent handbook, I’ve learned that kind words go much farther than words spoken in anger or fear. Thanks to you, Coach, she learned to hold her head high-she knows what a winner looks like.

Coach, at the end of that day, as she tried to drift off to sleep, I know she was sad. She’s only 17, and hasn’t had nearly the time to learn about life and its inevitable disappointments that you have. I know she felt loved, and safe, and that tomorrow would be a new day, and that there’s always another ski race around the corner. And I also know that one day, when this monumental experience shrivels into the minute, momentary instant in her glorious life, she’ll be able to look back and smile, and maybe even, for just an instant, wonder if you learned something, too.

With gratitude,

mamawolfe

 

 

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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A Reminder to Breathe and Be Still

breathe
breathe

It only takes a reminder to breathe,

a moment to be still, and just like that,
something in me settles, softens, makes
space for imperfection.
The harsh voice
of judgment drops to a whisper and I
remember again that life isn’t a relay
race;
that we will all cross the finish
line;
that waking up to life is what we
were born for.
As many times as I
forget, catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I’m going,
that many times I can make the choice
to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk
slowly into the mystery.
 
~ Danna Faulds
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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Real Heroes: Jason Collins, Magic Johnson, and Ryan White

English: Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson and ...
English: Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson and Boston Celtics Larry Bird in Game two of the 1985 NBA Finals at Boston Garden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 1992.  Magic Johnson, recently retired from the NBA, announces that he is HIV-positive.  America is just learning about AIDS, and is frightened. The gay communities are plagued with disease and seeing their community devastated by HIV related illnesses and death. It isn’t cool to come out-certainly not for sports figures, celebrities, or anyone else fearing discrimination from the public.

I remember when Magic made his historic announcement. I was sitting at my grandparent’s kitchen table in Sherman Oaks, California, reading the paper to my grandfather, and noticing that, despite the generation gap, he didn’t flinch when the news came out. I remember admiring Magic’s amazing courage to disclose his ‘secret’, and wondering how that would impact our culture. At this time, HIV was a ‘gay disease’, and I remember thinking Magic had amazing courage to put himself in the same category.

I was a  young teacher at the time, and had recently shared a book about Ryan White with my middle school class. Ryan White died of AIDS in 1990 at the age of eighteen, after being expelled from his middle school due to his HIV-infection. I didn’t think twice about the controversial nature of the book; I simply thought this was a story that needed to be shared. I had no political or personal motivation, other than I believed that knowledge is the best education, and when we know more we can do more. I knew HIV wasn’t a ‘gay disease’, but feared I was in the minority at my school.

English: This photo of Ryan White was taken by...
English: This photo of Ryan White was taken by me (Wildhartlivie) in the spring of 1989 at a fund raising event in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Around the same time, Tommy Lasorda, the famous manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, faced his own personal tragedy when his son, Tommy Junior, died at the age of thirty-three. When interviewed by journalist Peter Richmond, Lasorda reacted strongly to the idea that his son was gay:

“Back in his suite, in the residence area of Dodgertown, I ask him if it was difficult having a gay son.

“My son wasn’t gay,” he says evenly, no anger. “No way. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read in that paper that a lady gave birth to a fuckin’ monkey, too. That’s not the fuckin’ truth. That’s not the truth.”

I ask him if he read in the same paper that his son had died of AIDS.

“That’s not true,” he says.

I say that I thought a step forward had been taken by Magic Johnson’s disclosure of his own HIV infection, that that’s why some people in Los Angeles expected him to…

“Hey,” he says. “I don’t care what people…I know what my son died of. I know what he died of. The doctor put out a report of how he died. He died of pneumonia.””

How sad to lose your son at such a young age, and feel such shame over his sexual identity that even in his death, his father felt compelled to be the ‘tough guy’ and deny everything. What a lost opportunity for so many young athletes to feel ok about themselves and their sexual orientation. How many lives could have been saved if more people had the courage to tell the truth? How much progress could have been made if more people could have lived their lives openly and honestly?

Fast forward to 2013. Jason Collins, of the Washington Wizards, makes an announcement:

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.

I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

When I read Collins’ statement, I immediately flashed back to Magic Johnson and remembered the panic many felt about his HIV status in the 90s-could he infect other athletes through sweating or contact with them? Would he be treated the same now that he was infected with the ‘gay disease’?

And then I felt admiration for Collins. His courage is honorable; to come out as the first openly gay athlete takes not only a tremendous amount of self-confidence, but also self-love. He isn’t afraid of the repercussions of his statement, and if he is, he doesn’t show it. The public sees a strong, masculine, successful athlete who just happens to be gay. At 7’, 255 pounds, he may break the ‘gay stereotype’ that is still perpetuated by some.

Another step forwards in this story. Another moment in time, bound to mark history. Another brave face to admire and look up to.

And all the time I’m feeling like we are moving forward with our society becoming more tolerant and accepting of sexuality and differences, I’m also feeling sad that it’s even an issue at all. I wish we could forget about what people do in their bedrooms-gay and straight-and get to the real important issues: how we treat each other and move through the world together.

Thank you Magic, Tommy, Ryan and Jason. Thank you for having courage, for not being afraid to share your reality, and for helping to teach our children of the 21st century. You are real heroes.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Life Lessons from Mikaela Shiffrin: What a Real Winner Looks Like

Meeting Mikaela Shiffrin, Squaw Valley, U.S. Nationals
Meeting Mikaela Shiffrin, Squaw Valley, U.S. Nationals

See that boy in the red sweatshirt? That’s my son. And the girl handing him the paper? That’s Mikaela Shiffrin, the World Cup champion slalom ski racer. She’s smiling, but she just lost a ski race. My son waited and watched her with careful concentration as she made her way down the ski course. She’s not hard to miss, really. We just had to follow the little girls, tv cameras and reporters that trailed her every move.

She was full of grace, really – on and off the slalom course. This year, 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin won the World Cup in slalom. That’s a huge accomplishment for anyone, let alone a teenager. She’s only five years older than my son.

As soon as she crossed the finish at the U.S. National Championship races at Squaw Valley last weekend, she skied into the open arms of her fans, mostly young kids. The budding races were eager to meet her, pose for a quick photo or have her autograph something-anything, really. Helmets, speed suits, arms, sweatshirts and scraps of paper were quickly scribbled on, and then Mikaela flashed a huge smile for  the best moment any young racer could hope for. She’s quite cool for 18. Barely bigger than they are, she’s small for a female ski racer-but mighty.

Ski racing is a sport against the clock. Hundredths of seconds can separate the winners from the losers. The sharper the ski edges, the wax on the skis, the split second decisions as the racers run down the course can change a first place run to last place. Intense pressure, to be sure. Mental and physical toughness are essential. Hours and hours of training result in one sixty-second run. And one guarantee: everyone falls. Including Mikaela.

In first place after the first run, she was poised to win. But that didn’t happen. In front of a crowd of thousands, she straddled a gate instead of skiing around it, and her race was over.

C and Mikaela Shiffrin

And still, she smiled. She skied into the finish area to once again sign autographs and pose with her fans. All the racers knew how she felt, the disappointment of going from first to last in one split second. All the race moms wanted to give her a hug.

And still, she smiled. TV cameras waved in her face, and she smiled.

“I think it’s most important that I just try to connect with the younger kids here. Most of them say they watch the World Cup races so I think they’ve seen the skiing and it’s probably cool to see it live. But I think the most important thing is that I get to have some time face-to-face with them and show them I’m not actually that different and that I’m a goofball. We can have conversations and they can get to this point,” she said.

She’s right. The fans didn’t care  that she didn’t finish. This crowd of kids-including my son-know that she’s a real racer. She’s just like them. She’s not perfect. She falls, gets up, and does it again. Over and over. She knows there’s another race, another victory, and likely another defeat, too.

He’s still watching her, carefully. It doesn’t matter that the scoreboard shows her in last place. We can all clearly see what a winner looks like.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Karate and Calling Up the Creative Spirit

12 5 karate third degree extravaganza (8)Sitting in a karate dojo may not be the best writing environment for calling forth the creative spirit.  But it’s where I am for the next hour, and time is precious. Nine black belts gather on the bright red and black mat, geared for battle with padded sticks, thick, protective gloves and head gear that rivals any major league baseball catcher’s. Silently, they listen. Quietly, I watch, my fingers clicking the keyboard in opposition to their stick staccato.

I watch the instructor lead the class through drills that require intense hand/eye coordination, quick reflexes, and serious concentration to avoid a beating. “Don’t look away-stare your opponent in the eye,” the teacher directs. My son’s cat-like reflexes make it appear effortless, but I know better. I see what’s going on behind his stare.

I envy his ability to block out all distractions and focus on one seemingly simple act of snapping a stick towards his opponent. He’s not stressed out about the English homework left behind on his desk, or the piano practice he has to do when he gets home. He throws himself into the moment, fully present for the hour of training. I’m having trouble getting in my groove. Distractions abound in this place.

For me, being fully present in my environment is essential for creating, and while I find inspiration in the world around me, today the words come slowly. The train whistle, the beat of the funk music and the chants from the students across the hall challenge my focus and complicate my thoughts. I can’t concentrate. The words swirl. I need silence. Escape.

I could walk to my car-that’s always a quiet, controlled space for me-but that’s not politically correct in the parenting world. I could put in earplugs, but then how would I follow along with the class? Perhaps I should just sit with my notebook, jotting down words, thoughts, and inspiration that comes to mind…

They’ve moved to knife defense now. The instructor carefully tosses directions to his students. Tighter grip. Looser grip. Crowd the upper arm. Don’t let him wiggle out or get his posture back. Nice and smooth. It’s not about bending your arm 90 degrees in the wrong direction.

As I gaze down at my screen, I suddenly realize what I’m doing wrong: I’m bending in the wrong direction. I’m filling my days to the brim, looking for any moment to spill my thoughts. I’m immobilizing myself, keeping a tight grip on all the parts of my day instead of keeping it smooth. I want to capture it all, to not miss a moment. I’m bent over, poorly postured, no wiggle room. I’m not present in my now. I’m the epitome of multi-tasking. I’m the sucker walking down the dark alley, unaware of the danger lurking behind me.

I’m my own worst opponent here. I’m a sure target for being taken down. I have no self-defense.

The drills stop, and the students line up for last words. Today, it’s a motivational quote. Something by Winston Churchill – maybe “Never, never, never give up.” I’m not 100% sure. I’m listening, watching, writing, and only part-way there. Maybe that’s just the quote that comes to mind-my creative muse sending me a message after all, perhaps.

I’d better listen up and learn how to get myself out of this one – before it’s too late.

More life lessons from a 13-year-old.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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